A lawyer friend told me last week that they have “looked up the food chain, and don’t fancy it”. They aren’t a partner, they are in a Top 30 firm, and as someone I have known to be driven and career-minded for many years I was surprised. Lockdown has changed their view of working from home and flexibility for the better. And they can see the Partners in their firm have a lot of worry and pressure, and most have no influence on the workings of the firm even when they might not agree with decisions made. This friend is not expecting the financial performance of their firm to be amazing either, though as a salaried employee that is not really their immediate concern. This lawyer has decided that partnership has lost its appeal. They have a role they like, and their rewards and responsibilities they are on balance happy with.
But how many other lawyers have taken the opportunity to look upstream?
All too often partnership is aspired to, and is a goal almost presumed that young lawyers would want, and that is largely because the financial rewards are greater. But if you look right now at the partners as the people leading the business and quite possibly financing it, what do you see? Are their financial rewards greater? Have they got an influence on the strategy being adopted? Are they in a happy place, or not?
Inevitable economic downturns.
Economic downturns and tough times happen fairly regularly (maybe 3 or 4 in the average 30-40 year career?) and it is painful financially, it is challenging on relationships, and it is also tough on mental health. It can take years to return to a better level so living with the uncertainty is essential. It is worth looking at the trajectory you think you want and factoring these challenging times in to your rationale, because they are wholly predictable and they 100% will happen. If you are a partner and an economic slump comes along on your watch then you’ll have the responsibility to steward your team or department or firm to better times. It’s a ‘take the rough with the smooth argument’, but it’s important to keep looking at your role and at your career to check if it is still doing what you want it to do for you, and whether it is taking you in a direction you want to go.
Keep your direction under review.
When I work with experienced lawyers be they Partners or aspiring Legal Directors or Managing Associates, I always try to challenge them on what they want, and why. You’d be surprised how many people haven’t actually thought about those fundamental questions. They have gone with the flow and they haven’t necessarily stood back and reflected on learning experiences and observations through their careers.
I’d urge lawyers at all levels to ask themselves these questions and sense-check their direction, and if needs be look at new avenues to stay engaged with your career. It’s not a judgement, it’s about personal goals and professional self-worth, and ultimately being a happier person, and to that extent Covid-19 might just be one of life’s nudge moments.
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